Thursday, December 28, 2017

Delaware set for first place in pedestrian fatalities (again)

By Angela Connolly --

What can we say, about Delaware's consistent ranking among the worst States in the U.S. when it comes to pedestrian fatalities? Unfortunately, 2017 will almost match 2015, when we took the #1 spot per capita -- even beating Florida. Currently at 32 dead, that translates to 3.9 per 100,000 residents, and will likely get us there.

With advocate's help, DelDOT is doing an excellent job when it comes to adding crosswalks, sidewalks, bike lanes, etc whenever possible, on a limited budget, usually during repave and reconstruction projects. But facilities can only do so much; Delaware has an enormous problem when it comes to aggressive and distracted driving. Most use "smart" phones behind the wheel --  and very few drive defensively. Law enforcement is weak to non-existent, mainly throughout the State's unincorporated zones (most of the State's suburbs). Combine that with some pedestrians who are wayward and/or wear "dark clothing" -- as the press loves to point out -- and that's what gives us this horrible distinction.

As most are now aware, the Advisory Council on Walkability and Pedestrian Awareness was created in October 2015 to begin addressing the issue. Unfortunately, little they propose will change anything; their main focus is reigning in careless pedestrian behavior. Without stepping up vehicle law enforcement, too many drivers will continue to speed, act with aggression and intolerance, share attention on the road with their "smart" phone, and fail to account for vulnerable road users. As a result, they see them when it's too late. According to every national study ever conducted on the subject, use of phones while driving is the equivalent of  DWI -- yet even texting is readily dismissed by law enforcement as a societal norm. This gross disparity is where most of the problem lies.

Shortly after its inception, the ACWPA was gifted a historic opportunity to reform Delaware's vehicle code for the purpose of pedestrian safety. On Christmas Eve, 2015, Amy Wilburn (former Chair of the Delaware Bicycle Council) and Frank Warnock sat together at Friendly's Restaurant and crafted language for a Senate bill. They did not re-invent the wheel; they merely borrowed language found in States ranking far higher than Delaware, including those at the top like Massachusetts and Oregon.

For reasons we'll never understand, the Council handed Bike Delaware control of a subcommittee that ultimately quashed any notion of changing the law. Passage of the "Pedestrian Bill", as it was referred to, would have been just the shake-up Delaware needed to put the focus on pedestrian safety and motorist's behavior around them. Instead, they thought it best to go on victim blaming,  and to better accommodate bad driver behavior. Until that changes, we will continue to be the "1st deadliest State" in the nation where walking is concerned.

Finally, DelDOT's stubborn insistence on utilizing the 85th Percentile when setting speed limits is literally killing us. Too often, this method results in highway speeds that are permitted through zones rich in walking and bicycling activity, including residential, retail -- even in front of schools. By assuming that basically 85% are "good drivers", this too is a direct contributor to the problems outlined above.

In the years ahead, let's hope life overtakes the need for speed and saving scant seconds in every trip we take, regardless of transportation mode.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Is Bike Delaware a Tool of Developer Interests?

4 things to consider if you support Bike Delaware and believe in their mission and vision -- 

SB-130, Enterprise Districts
  • Bike Delaware's signature legislation centers around land use. At the core is Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Districts, which promote large, high density mixed use developments. Selling them as multi-modal could see NCC relax vehicle level of service (LOS) requirements, and put such development on the fast track.
Lobbying efforts
  • Lobbying for high profile trails and pathways projects. These increase surrounding property values, draws developer interest, and ultimately becomes a selling point for homes clustered nearby.
Dissing and undermining of on-road safety efforts
  • Ignoring efforts at road bicycling education and infrastructure. Any pragmatist would agree that we need to fix what we already have -- before heaping on more development. This would rightfully suggest that we can and should retrofit the built environment -- first. Instead, Bike Delaware advocates for multi-modalism with new housing developments, giving these a higher likelihood of density waivers and project approval (tip: doesn't work when surrounded by auto-dependent suburbs).
Touting the impossible
  • Selling an impossible vision to Delaware's bicycling community, by insisting that we can build a low-stress bicycling network locally accessible to everyone, including 8-80 year olds. The facts say otherwise. (tip: a course in home rule and county land use would also help).
Few bicyclists like seeing this sign
Conclusion:
What little open space remains in NCC is mostly what planners and developers refer to as "infill", where any type of connectivity is fiercely opposed by existing neighborhoods. Most larger tracts -- also surrounded by car-dependent sprawl -- are either off limits or being hotly contested for open space acquisition. That said, if they really are intent on paving over most of the State's remaining farmland in Kent and Sussex, it might be possible to build enough contiguous TOD that more folks do indeed bike and walk between communities, and use transit if the State arranges and funds it. Alternatives to car usage might become a little more popular. But then you have the cheapest gas in history (inflation factored) to ruin the incentive, and examples like Stevenage to explain around.

Delaware's recent fall from #3 to #7 as a Bicycle Friendly State was largely due to a lack of low stress connectivity and a bicycling mode share that barely registers. Unless the State is prepared to spend enormous sums and begin using eminent domain, connectivity that the 8-80 yo "interested but concerned" folks can use to circumvent arterial roads and intersections will remain impossible. Govt would have to strategically condemn and raze private properties in order to install non-motorized pathway connections between developments, and designate their streets as "bike boulevards". Doing so would draw the ire of adjacent residents, and trigger a frenzy of lawsuits. Except in a rare case or two, it isn't going to happen.

The Oil Crisis of 1973 was the last time in U.S. history that bicycling was truly popular for transportation purposes. With mode share currently at 0.2% in Delaware, major Govt spending on bike path infrastructure by confiscating private property would be political suicide. Bike Delaware should also understand that where cities and countries have high bicycle mode share, car ownership and fuel costs are prohibitively expensive and/or inconvenient. Raising the cost of driving to encourage alternative modes would again be political suicide.

So decide for yourself what Bike Delaware's true motive is, and just who may be bankrolling their staff and for what purpose. We're not saying it's a fact, because we have no real way to prove it (and, they are anything but transparent). But the evidence seems pretty clear.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Bicycle-Friendly Delaware Act weakens 3' Passing Law


We reviewed the updated vehicle code resulting from the passage of HB-185 (Bicycle-Friendly Delaware Act), found in DE Title 21, Chapter 41, Section 4116. Missing is any reference to safe passing distance of bicyclists unless being overtaken by a vehicle in the same lane, assuming it is wide enough to safely share. Riding within shoulders and/or bike lanes is not accounted for, which are very common and count as a lane in their own right.

A Newark commuter enforces the 3' passing law - with a shovel. 
The original vehicle code wasn't the clearest either, but it could have been construed that motorists are to move out at least 3' regardless. By not including shoulders and/or bike lanes, Bike Delaware failed to cement these as applicable; therefore, you are not covered under the safe passing law because you are in your own lane of travel. Motorists who overtake while straddling the white line -- common, often deliberate -- are permitted to do so as long as keeping to their own lane. In a 4' bike lane, for example, the bicyclist's footprint can occupy as much as 3' elbow to elbow. For a motorist with a tire on the white line, this would leave a foot or less passing clearance. This is especially terrifying in high speed conditions.

As we already discussed in previous articles, HB-185 did include some long overdue updates to the vehicle code, and we applaud the hard work that went into that. Unfortunately, what could have been a great bill ended up fair, and somewhat hurting past progress as seen here. The bill also came up short by failing to include any anti-harassment language, except a ban on frivolous honking, as we discussed in this analysis.

This is what to expect when you have a LAB sanctioned State organization whose approach to advocacy lacks pragmatism and balance. Their inner sanctum only recognizes total separation from traffic -or- total integration with cars, and nothing in-between. As a result, they do not support on-road bicycling infrastructure, but at the same time, believe it is they -- and only they -- that represent the interests of bicyclists in the State of Delaware. Because of this, they would never think to engage the wider bicycling community for input. Had they done so, we might not be faced with this predicament.

Conclusion
We'll again repeat that, as a non-profit organization, Bike Delaware must become more open and transparent. Nobody knows what they are doing until it is already in motion. It's time for them to lift the veil of secrecy, and put their projects out to comment among the broader bicycling community. Most would agree, for example, that upping the law to a 4' passing distance anywhere a bicyclist is encountered would suffice. Lane changes could still be required with narrow or multiple lane configurations, and an anti-harassment component could have been included. Let's hope that any efforts to amend the bill, or further update the vehicle code is carried out in a more open and accessible manner.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

SR896/I95 Intersection Project on-line and ready for comments

The public workshop for the SR896 (S. College Ave) and I95 intersection project was very successful, according to DelDOT. Hopefully, the bicycling community was present, and voiced our needs. According to the project page:

We are still in the preliminary stages of our project development process. A public workshop was held on December 5, 2017. Thank you to all who were able to attend! We will solicit comments for a 30 day time period. A preferred alternative will be chosen in Spring 2018 and we will begin design.

We had a very successful public workshop on December 5, 2017 with over 120 people in attendance! For those who were unable to attend, below are copies of the boards that were shown. We have 3 different alternatives that will address the purpose and need of the project. We will be collecting comments for an additional 30 days. Please utilize the official comment form on our website.

Facilitating bicyclists and pedestrians is nowhere mentioned in the scope, so it will be up to citizens and advocates to encourage DelDOT in this direction, citing the State's multi-modal Complete Streets policy. According to the University of Delaware's Institute for Public Administration:

The intent of Delaware’s policy is for “the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) [to] enhance its multi-modal initiative by creating a Complete Streets policy that will promote safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and [transit] riders of all ages to be able to safely move along and across the streets of Delaware.”

There should be no justification whatsoever for nixing multi-modal accommodations from these plans. SR896 is open to bicyclists, and there is a long history of conversation that a safe passage over I95 here is sorely needed. It is the direct route south out of Newark, and would ultimately connect with new and existing pathways parallel to SR896 en-route to Glasgow and points south.

What can you do to help us advocate, and get this included in the project? It is very early in the planning, and these simple steps may just make the difference:

  • Visit the project page, and use the comment form
  • Email your comments to the project engineer breanna.kovach@state.de.us and CC dotpr@state.de.us to ensure it's recorded.
  • Cross-post this as an action alert to other pages, and share to other orgs on social media sites, i.e. Bike Newark, Newark Bike Project, etc.
  • Email Bike Delaware and ask that they approach DelDOT, advocating for a safe, multi-modal connection here, over I95: james@bikede.org
  • Talk this project up on Bike Delaware's web and social media pages (1st State Bikes is blocked) and if they don't support it, ask them why

Below are reduced-size JPG images of the 3 options. As discussed, none contain bike/ped facilities of any type. Should they be included, a multi-user pathway (MUP) could be extended between I95 and Old Baltimore Pike on the south side, on plentiful county-owned lands (Iron Hill Park). From there, existing pathways continue on the southbound side, past Glasgow HS, 4-Seasons, and Glasgow Business Community. These could be readily connected to the Rt.40 corridor via Old SR896 and its future pathways currently being built piecemeal.




We will contact DelDOT to inquire on a periodic basis, and provide updates as they come available.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

DBC fails to recognize Amy Wilburn, Chair of 8 years

It's almost never that we call out DelDOT and/or the Delaware Bicycle Council for something shameful. But here, we are clearly justified.

Amy Wilburn served as Chair of DBC for 8 immensely productive years, from 1997 through 2015. As such, she initiated, presided over, and/or worked alongside others on the following projects (in no particular order):
Amy was on DBC's 10/5-2016 agenda for 5 minutes, where they planned to at least acknowledge her tenure:


. . . but as seen in these meeting minutes, that never happened.

Bike Delaware, unhappy with DBC's focus on road advocacy and safety, tried to replace Amy in 2015 with their Executive Director James Wilson, who was defeated handily by the loved incumbent. Bike Delaware would finally have their way in 2016, with Tom Hartley taking the Chair uncontested (upon Amy's decision not to run for a historic 9th term).

Amy was deliberately cropped out of this photo on Bike Delaware's website, of Governor John Carney signing the "Bicycle-Friendly Delaware Act" on 10/5/2017 in Newark.

For those that do not know who or what the Delaware Bicycle Council is, their website contains the following history:

The Delaware Bicycle Council was established in May of 1990 by House Bill 505 to "consider, review and work on matters pertaining to bicycling, bicycle safety and bicycle safety education and to make recommendations to various state agencies." Originally organized with nine members, the Council was expanded to 15 members in May of 1996 by House Bill 556. Members are appointed by the Governor with staggered terms and include representatives from the Department of Transportation, The Council on Transportation, The Department of Education, The Delaware State Police, The Office of Highway Safety, The Division of Parks and Recreation, The Council on Greenways and Trails, The Division of Public Health. In addition, seven citizen members are appointed - two from New Castle County, one from Kent County, one from Sussex County and three At-large. The Council meets at least five times a year. Staff support is provided by DelDOT's Bicycle/Pedestrian Coordinator at 760-BIKE.

With this level of participation and oversight by multiple other organizations, it disturbs us that volunteer recognition at this level was blatantly disregarded. The internet is teaming with books, guides, pages of information pertaining to its importance. For example:

"It is also important to give both appreciation and recognition. Appreciation expresses “thank you” for time and effort, which can be done in a variety of formal and informal ways. Recognition, with its root “cognition,” conveys the message that one is mindful of and values the unique contributions made by a volunteer."  ~John L. Lipp

Let's hope the DBC and/or DelDOT recognizes this issue, given the importance of cultivating new volunteers and new relationships that will help move bicycling forward in Delaware.

Friday, December 1, 2017

CRITICAL Workshop: I-95 and SR 896 Interchange Project

I-95 and SR 896 Interchange Project
 
Glasgow HS Cafeteria, 1901 S. College Avenue, Newark
Tuesday, December 5, 2017, 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM (directions)

From DelDOT's Website:

The public is invited to attend the I-95 and SR 896 Interchange workshop. The interchange currently experiences peak hour congestion and has safety concerns throughout the day. Alternatives have been analyzed that will improve safety and traffic operations.

We welcome your input and comments on the project and encourage you to identify and discuss project related issues. Interested persons are invited to express their views in writing, giving reasons for support of, or opposition to, the proposed changes.


Comments will be received at the workshop or can be mailed to DelDOT Community Relations P.O. Box 778, Dover, DE 19903, sent via email to
dotpr@state.de.us or by fax (302) 739-2092. Visit the project notification page for more info.

Since the beginning, Advocates have been asking DelDOT to add multi-modal safety at the I-95 crossings in New Castle County. A direct link from Newark to Four Seasons, Glasgow HS, Glasgow Park, the Rt.40 corridor, and points south on SR 896/S. College Ave has never been considered with road construction along the corridor. Soon, another opportunity will present itself with the above project.

History has taught us that Bike Delaware will be a no-show or even oppose the effort, so if we truly want connectivity from town to town and place to place, bicyclists must stand up and ask for it. Please take a moment out of your schedule to attend this workshop, and submit comments in favor. Or at least submit comments via email: dotpr@state.de.us

In the above snip taken from Google Earth, the yellow lines represent a combination of paved multi-user pathways and 25 mph frontage roads with wide shoulders -- all reasonably safe for bicycling. Red is where additional pathways should and could easily be added on already govt owned lands. The SR 896 intersection is circled in red. It would require some additional engineering to include a safe multi-modal provision to connect Newark.

Despite the horror of an interstate cloverleaf intersection, some bicyclists are still seen going for it.

A tangled mess ensues as you're greeted by cars coming off of I95 westbound to SR 896 southbound. A W11 Bicycle Warning Sign is seen as the merge unfolds, but is largely ineffective -- if it's even seen.